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Manhunt: From Saddam to bin Laden

What Social Networks Mean for Modern Warfare -- A Future Tense Event from Slate and New America
Slate Magazine

On February 26, Slate’s Chris Wilson, Colonel Jim Hikey, Scott Helfstein, and “Matthew Alexander” (a pseundonym) explored the surprisingly hi-tech hunt for Iraq's dictator in 2003, and ways such tools continue to change U.S. war-fighting. The panelists were introduced by New America President Steve Coll. The event was moderated by Peter Bergen, Co-Director of the Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative.

After the invasion of Iraq, a team of innovative U.S. soldiers captured Saddam Hussein by using Facebook-style social network theory to crack the network of families protecting him. Slate published a five-part series in which Wilson explored the implication of such social networking for other military operations. Leading off the panelists, Wilson explained how he became interested in the story, and how key social networking was in tracking down Saddam Hussein. Social networking analyses, Wilson emphasized, have become much more sophisticated statistically. Colonel Jim Hickey, Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division that caught Saddam, spoke of his motivations in locating the former dictator and the importance of mapping out family networks in his overall strategy. Saddam’s capture led to a significant decrease in levels of violence in the region.

"Matthew Alexander" (a pseudonym) talked at length of his time as an interrogator in Iraq, and how he was able to leverage knowledge gleamed from social networking in his interrogations. Specifically, Alexander emphasized the usefulness of exploiting social hierarchies. He also discussed, more broadly, which interrogation techniques are most successful and why. Scott Helfstein, Assistant Professor at the United State Military Academy, said he was skeptical of just how easily social networking analyses can be applied to fighting terrorism. He discussed the theory of terror cells designed for operational security and patterns in terrorist networks that he predicted could be “reverse engineered” to identify characteristics of potentially threatening groups.


Featured Speakers
Chris Wilson
Associate Editor, Slate magazine

"Matthew Alexander" (a pseudonym)
Air Force interrogator involved in the hunt for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Scott Helfstein, PhD
Associate, Combating Terrorism Center
Assistant Professor, Department of Social Sciences
United States Military Academy

Colonel Jim Hickey
Commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division that caught Saddam

Peter Bergen
Co-Director, Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative
New America Foundation

Searching for Saddam: Slate Video

Event Time and Location

Friday, February 26, 2010 - 9:30am - 11:00am
New America Foundation
1899 L Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20036

Event Materials

Event Photos

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A range of photos from this event are available on Flickr. Click on the icon at left to view or download the photos.